Matthew 8:1-2 – When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
In the New Testament scriptures, leprosy is a somewhat generic term that can refer to any skin disease. However, in the Old Testament, it meant something more specific.
In ancient times, leprosy was a deadly, incurable skin disease which was characterized by smooth, shining, depressed white patches of skin. The hair within the skin also turned white. The disease causes the flesh to be anesthetized to pain, and thus a person could injure themselves severely and not even notice it. The disease also caused wasting of muscle tissue, loss of hair and destruction of the bones and joints especially of the hands and feet.
Because leprosy was incurable and highly contagious, the Jews of old were instructed to take precautions anytime a person came down with the disease. The precautions consisted of three parts:
- The person had to move out of the camp. This meant they were separated from their fellow man.
- The person was considered unclean and was no longer allowed in the temple area. This meant the person was cut off from God.
- The person had to call out “unclean, unclean” anytime they were walking around and approached another person. Since there is no cure, the leper was essentially dead while he still lived, and the crying out was a kind of mourning.
- [You can read the specifics of leprosy in Leviticus 13].
Of all the miracles that Jesus performed on earth, why do you suppose Matthew recorded this one? Is it beneficial for us today? Don’t we have modern medicine to cure leprosy now?
It is easy to see why Matthew included this miracle when we consider that leprosy is symbolic of sin.
Sin is an incurable disease that we cannot heal. It anesthetizes our conscience and deforms our lives. It shuts us out of fellowship with our fellow man and it cuts us off from the presence of God. When we are under the curse of sin, we are dead even while we live!
The leper in this narrative acknowledges that Jesus has the power to heal him, if he will. What is Jesus response?
Matthew 8:3 – And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
When you read the New Testament you can’t help but notice that Jesus heals in many different ways. Sometimes he spits and makes mud, sometimes he touches or speaks or has you stretch out your hand.
If I were going to heal this leper, I would probably have yelled “be healed” from about 100 yards away! But Jesus doesn’t do that, does he? He chooses to do something very interesting – he touches the man with the incurable, contagious disease.
It is very likely that this was the first human touch the leper had felt in a long time. Imagine what comfort it must have brought him!
If we carefully read the request of the leper, we can see that he believes Jesus has the power to heal him, what he doubts is whether or not Jesus will do so. By asking this request, the leper is risking rejection by God. But we see that without hesitation, Jesus declares his love and concern for this individual by not only saying ‘I will’, but also by touching him.
The same is true for us. We know that Jesus died and rose again; he is certainly capable of forgiving our sins. Yet many people doubt that Jesus will forgive them. If that is you, pay special attention to this passage of scripture. There is no sin too horrible or black or disgusting for Jesus. He wants to stretch out his hand of love and forgive you right now! Just take a lesson from the leper – approach him humbly and simply ask. He will not turn you away!
Matthew 8:4 – And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
Jesus came not to overturn the law, but to fulfill it. Thus, it was proper that the leper should go to the priest to be declared clean, according to the law. This set in motion a couple of different things.
First, it gave the former leper a chance to witness about the healing he had received. His testimony was confirmed by an impartial third party – the priest- therefore it was a fact that could not be disputed by those who tried to discredit Jesus. It also afforded the cleansed man an opportunity to bring an offering of thanksgiving to God.
Second, it allowed the former leper to legally return to his people and the temple. No longer was he cut off from God and man. No longer was he dead while still living.
Third, it provided an opportunity for the cleansed leper to be obedient to the commands of Jesus. God places a high value on obedience; he considers it much more valuable than sacrifice.
The spiritual implications for us are obvious. When Jesus forgives our sin, we should be willing to bear witness to that fact. We should be forever singing his praise and worshipping him for what he has done. Because our sin has been forgiven by the blood of Christ, we are no longer cut off from man or God. In fact, we can enter into God’s throne room any time we wish! No longer are we dead in our trespasses and sin. Even though we have trials and tribulations in this life, we are safe in the hands of Jesus.
Matthew 8:5-7 – When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
Matthew immediately records another healing by Jesus, though this one is far different from the leper. In this instance, the request is being made by a centurion, a military man with authority over 100 soldiers. This man was a Gentile, stationed in Capernum for the express purpose of keeping the Jews in line with Roman policy.
Given this, we might have expected him to ignore the plight of his servant altogether, to seek help from ordinary physicians or even turn to witchcraft. Instead, we are surprised to learn that he seeks relief from the true God of Israel. He may not have fully understood that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, but he did understand and believe that the power of God flowed through Jesus.
His belief prompts him to seek Jesus for the healing of his servant, who is suffering badly. Even the heathen come to Jesus to unburden their souls! And as in the case of the leper, Jesus has compassion on the sinner and readily agrees to come and touch him.
Matthew 8:8-9 – But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it.
Not only did the centurion believe that the power of God flowed through Jesus, he understood that authority in the spiritual realm is parallel to authority in the natural realm. In the Roman army, the centurion had men over him in authority. At the same time, we know he had 100 men under his authority. Likewise, Jesus was submitting to his Father’s authority while sickness, disease and every other form of evil had no choice but to submit to the Son of God.
Matthew 8:10 – When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.
What is the definition of faith? Faith is belief in the truth of what is declared by another resting solely and implicitly on his authority and veracity. It is confidence or trust in a person (or thing) resting solely on that person’s authority, rather than proof.
In other words, it means believing what Jesus said simply because he was the one who said it!
The Jews, however, were not inclined to simply trust in Jesus as the Son of God. They had access to the Old Testament scriptures that spoke of Messiah, and they saw miracle after miracle performed by Jesus, yet they would not simply take him at his word.
Instead, they were constantly asking Jesus for a sign to verify or prove that he was the Son of God.
What a contrast from the centurion! Here was a Gentile who believed and acknowledged Jesus’ power and authority so completely, that he didn’t see a need for Jesus to come to his house to heal his servant. His faith believed that a single command from Jesus would solve the problem!
What about you? Is your faith more like the Pharisees or the centurion? Do you believe the promises you find in the Bible and live your life accordingly? If not, why?
Matthew 8:11-12 – I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Here Jesus represents salvation/entrance to the kingdom of Heaven as a feast or banquet. The ‘sons’ are the Jewish people, who felt that their status as descendants of Abraham was enough to get them into the kingdom. Those who come from the ‘east and west’ are clearly Gentiles.
Jesus reveals two important truths here:
One, entrance to the kingdom of Heaven is not based on physical family lineage. Contrary to popular belief, Jews were not guaranteed entrance to heaven just because they were descendants of Abraham; something else would be required.
Two, Jesus begins to reveal that God’s ultimate plan is to include the Gentiles in the plan of salvation. Those who were not physical descendants of Abraham could still be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.
To us, this seems normal. We grew up with the understanding that God accepts anyone into his kingdom as long as they turn to the blood of Jesus for forgiveness of sin. But this was a radical concept for the Jews back in the days of Jesus. The separation between the Jews and Gentiles was so great, only the Spirit of God was wise enough and strong enough to unite the two groups together into a single church/body of Christ.
Matthew 8:13 – And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
The servant received his healing; the centurion received an answer to his prayer and a confirmation of his faith.
Matthew 8:14-15 – And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.
Peter invited Jesus to his house. Jesus willingly came. When Jesus entered this situation, the first thing he did was to bring peace and healing to all that were in the house. Peter’s mother-in-law was immediately healed of her fever. She responded to that healing by ministering to Jesus and his disciples.
Do you have situations in your life that need the touch of Jesus? Why not invite him in right now? He will bring peace and healing when he comes. You can then glorify his name through praise and worship. You can also testify to his goodness by assisting others who may be enduring the same fiery trial.
Psalm 46:1 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Sickness and difficulties can happen to anyone, even to people of faith who are diligently serving God. We can’t stop the trials from coming, but we can always turn to Jesus in our times of need. He is a very present help in the time of trouble.
Matthew 8:16-17 – That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Why do you suppose they waited until evening to seek out Jesus? The answer lies in the way the Jews counted their days. We hold that a day begins and ends at midnight. For the Jews, the day begins and ends at sunset. Since no work could be performed on the Sabbath day, the Jews waited until sunset or the end of the Sabbath, to bring the sick to Jesus.
Those who took the time to come to him were not disappointed. He healed every sick person who came. Now is a good time to mention that these healings were not limited to just physical ailments. Jesus also healed (and continues to heal) emotional scars as well as mental ailments including, but not limited to: fear, anxiety and depression. All of our healing, as well as the forgiveness of our sin, was foretold in Isaiah 53.
We should note that Jesus most often combined teaching with ministry (healing). People were more than willing to listen to the teaching, knowing they would also have their physical needs met. In this way, Jesus ministered to them both spiritually and physically.
This is a good model for us as well. If we want to share the gospel with people in our community, we should look at combining that message with hot meals, clothes, groceries or after school programs. When we meet a person’s physical needs, they are more receptive to the gospel message.
SO LET ME OFFER YOU SOME ENCOURAGEMENT: When Peter invited Jesus to his house, it was not for the purpose of healing his mother-in-law. Her sickness was not life threatening. In fact, we might say it was just a normal part of life.
But as soon as Jesus was given access to the household, he brought peace and healing to all that it contained, even this woman’s minor ailment. You may have some things in your life that you don’t feel are worthy to trouble Jesus about, but remember – he is interested in everything that has to do with you. He can and will bring peace and healing to even your littlest troubles. I encourage you to invite him to abide with you and see what happens!
LET ME OFFER YOU SOME RELIEF: You may have some ugly ‘leprous’ things in your life and you may feel that you need to clean some of those things up before seeking Jesus. But let me offer you some relief – Jesus is willing to accept you right now, leprous spots and all. There are some things that you will never be able to heal in your life. You need Jesus to do that, so call upon him today, just as you are. He is waiting for you to call upon him, and he is not afraid to touch lepers!
LET ME OFFER YOU SOME STRENGTH: Who did Jesus heal? All who came to him, of course! You may be timid about coming to Jesus for forgiveness and healing. You may be afraid that he will reject you. You may be uncertain if he will hear and answer you. You may be concerned about his ability to do the impossible, but let me give you the strength and confidence you need to move ahead – Jesus healed ALL who came to him. He did not turn anyone away! And his power never decreases. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, so be strong in the Lord. Let your faith grow and expand. Show him that you believe by asking him for what you want and praising him for what he has done!